Understanding the Importance of Search

The world of search may feel overwhelming and complicated. But the good news is that if you’re following good web writing practices, you’re probably well on your way to having great results on search. We all think our content is the most important for visitors to see. But looking at how prospective students use search for their college exploration helps us design an experience that prioritizes exactly what future students are looking for.

Not only does having good content make your users happy, but it also lets search engines know that your site provides the answers and content for which your potential users are looking. This results in happier humans and happier robots, all of which lead to better search results and rankings for you.

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The five most important questions prospective students are trying to answer are:

  • Do they have my major?
  • Can I afford it?
  • What kind of career options will it give me?
  • What classes will I be taking?
  • What is life like on campus?

This means our content needs to focus on elevating content about costs and pricing. As this is one of the first filters that students use in deciding whether our college goes on their list. We also want to make it clear and easy to find majors, connecting directly to the course offerings and career options associated with that major. 

Finally, we want to give prime real estate to the most important and relevant content. Think of the spaces on a web page that draw the user’s eye (like the top left corner, hero section, and larger buttons).and make sure the content that appears there aligns with our goals.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of creating a website or web page to have markup and content quality that is optimized for search engines. Good SEO practices help increase a site’s page ranking and search engine visibility. As a marketing strategy, SEO can provide better placement within the search results, thus providing higher levels of exposure to outside audiences of users seeking related content—without the use of paid advertising.

With time, search engines’ algorithms evolved to focus on the end user, ensuring that they deliver value by matching user search intent in the best possible way. Consequently, the best way towards good SEO practices is creating content that meets user needs; the search engines will follow. Focus on the following:

  • Create good, well-structured content.
  • Link it to other content so users can find what they’re looking for.
  • Update it regularly so that search engines know it is fresh.

We have specific ways we talk about things across campus, but this can be tricky for our users. Always think about if we can you realistically expect a high schooler to know what we're saying (or trying to get them to do)?

The content behind these terms and labels is so critical. But if we want students to get the intended information, we need to guide them in a more accessible way.

For example, in a recent study, 79% of high school students said they were very familiar with the term "graduate" but when asked to provide a definition, they had many different interpretations ranging from finishing school, completing a course or someone graduating.

Think of Google as a real person
Site visitors are unlikely to read whole pages of text unless they know that the content pertains to exactly what they are looking for. Use clear, descriptive, and keyword-rich text for page titles.

Use keywords wisely
Include primary keywords in the page title (H1) and keyword-rich phrases in the copy at least twice. Use secondary keywords in page headlines and content where appropriate. Try not to think of keywords as things you have to force into your content. They should be a natural expression of what you are trying to convey, and what your visitors will naturally be searching for.

The next most important item is the first paragraph
After the page title, the introductory paragraph in an HTML <p> tag provides further context to Google about what the page is about. Use this paragraph to summarize the contents of the page with relevant and useful keywords.

Use alt text for images
Search engine spiders and people using screen readers cannot see what is being shown in images. Based on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, images are required to have alternative text, or “alt text”. However, recent industry-wide recommendations advise that “alt text” is only necessary for images that contain text that isn’t otherwise included in the page and/or is imperative to understanding the content. For example, a flyer that contains event information within the image would benefit from “alt text” containing the same event details. Or if there is an image that is being used to replace large sections of text within a story or explanation. If there is no text within an image or the image is not imperative to understanding the content, there is a chance you could inadvertently make your site less accessible to people with a visual impairment by adding “alt text”. If the surrounding text does a sufficient job conveying the information that the image contains or if the image is purely atmospheric in nature, alt text isn’t necessary. Additionally, ensure that the alt text attribute is not redundant when read within the context of surrounding copy.  

Use naming conventions for image and document files
Images are a very rich form of content. Because of this, naming conventions for image files themselves, along with the alt attribute text, should be well thought-out to lend clarity and context. Consistency is key—a standard file naming convention across all images and documents will ensure that individual files on a website full of hundreds or even thousands are easily located.

Bad examples: imaGE_7890.jpg, aakk7654.jpg, stockICON399.png
Good examples: john-doe-profile.jpg, campus-ministry.jpg, college-logo.png.